How to Ski for Free (well almost...!)
Skiing has never been the cheapest of sports. It’s never going to undercut the price of playing football down the park with jumpers for goalposts. But there are cheaper options out there. And if you think about how much you would spend in an average week staying at home – weekly London rent= £90; weekly grocery bill=£60; meal and drinks out=£50; total =£200! – suddenly a week skiing abroad doesn’t seem quite so unreasonable.
Although the Brits have long favoured France as their ski destination of choice, a six day lift pass for the Three Valley area now costs a whopping £200! With food and beer in the big name French resorts equally expensive, many skiers and snowboarders are now looking for cheaper ways to get their snow fix this winter.
And there are plenty of better value alternatives out there. Skyscanner reveals ten of the cheapest places to ski and snowboard this season.
Slovakia's biggest and best resort, Jasna is situated in the Low Tatras National Park. Don't be put off by the name, the mountain rises to an altitude of 2,024m and offers a very respectable 1,000m of vertical drop. Jasna has seen considerable investment over the last few years and is one of Europe’s most underrated snow zones. With five freeride areas and guaranteed snow for five months of the year, intermediates can happily spend a week here.
British run company Propaganda Snowboards welcomes skiers and snowboarders to their five bedroom chalet, a short drive from Jasna’s lifts. Pricewise, Slovakia is infinitely better value than France; a pint of beer will cost £1 or less; a three course meal just a tenner.
With a mixture of pine and birch and ample supplies of powder, Jezerine ski area near Kolasin resembles the ski resorts of Japan. New investment has brought a new high speed 6-seater chair lift, and there’s talk of more upgrades soon. The lodges that sit at the base of the slopes are beautifully built wooden structures that would fit happily in Whistler; stop in for a hot chocolate and sit around the giant log fire.
Ideal for beginners, intermediates or even advanced skiers if you’re prepared to go exploring the surrounding bowls and gullies, Kolasin is small but perfectly formed. There is very limited accommodation at the ski area itself so stay in Kolasin town – a 15 minute drive, which offers bars and restaurants.
Along with its cousins, Bansko and Pamporovo, the ski resort of Borovets is a great choice for the bargain hunter. A lively, cheap and cheerful town, Borovets is the oldest ski resort in Bulgaria. Nestled at around 1,300m in the Rila Mountains, it's comprised of three separate zones (which aren't yet fully linked).
The upper half of the mountain is largely above the tree line and offers plenty of wide open pistes, most of which are fairly gentle – ideal for beginners and intermediates. The ski instruction here is top notch and the après ski is lively, so it’s particularly popular with party animals.
Kopaonik is perhaps Eastern Europe’s most modern ski area with 21 lifts – many of which are very new – serving the forest-lined runs. The max vertical drop of 521m may be modest by Alpine standards, but the area does offer some excellent tree runs after heavy snow. Kopaonik retains its traditional charm with thatched slope-side huts serving ‘hot wine’ and meaty snacks in front of roaring fires. After dark, Serbians know how to party, with the bars and clubs jumping until the small hours.
Duty-free zone Livigno offers excellent intermediate skiing in an area that should just about keep advanced skiers and snowboarders happy for a week if you’re happy to explore a little off piste. One of the Livigno’s big attractions is its excellent terrain park which has pro-sized jumps (think: house sized!) as well as rails and kickers for mere mortals. The price of food and drink in and around the slopes is all very reasonable – meaning it’s a place popular with the younger ski crowd who come to party.
An ideal spot for couples or families, Vogel is a truly beautiful ski area. Overlooking Lake Bohinj, Vogel is part of the Triglav national park. The modern cable car hauls people up from lakeside to the mountains in minutes, allowing skiers access to the largely treeless terrain which offers ample opportunity for off-piste exploration. Night life is low key, but with capital Ljubljana a little over an hour away, a day trip is perfectly possible.
Popova Shapka, Macedonia
Popova Shapka is Macedonia’s premier ski zone and should keep intermediate skiers and snowboarders happy for a few days when the snow is deep and all the lifts are running. But if you really want to experience the best of the Macedonian mountains – splash out on a day or two with Europe’s cheapest (and only!) cat-skiing operation: Eskimo-freeride. They take you up in a converted piste-groomer to the best backcountry the area has to offer and guide you down through the perfectly spaced pines on dusty, untracked Popova powder.
Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
This Kashmiri village high in the Himalayas is fast becoming the coolest kid on the block for the adventurous ski set. Obviously you’ll have to shell out for flights, but once you get there, you’ll find it’s excellent value. If the idea of skiing amongst monkeys and machine guns doesn’t appeal, then Kashmir is best avoided; but if it’s adventure you’re after, Gulmarg offers perhaps the finest lift-accessed powder slopes in the world. And the Kashmiri curries aren’t bad either.
6 day ski pass: £112
Getting there: Flights to Srinagar (via Delhi) cost from £500 return departing from London Heathrow
7 night’s accommodation: from £230 at the Pine Palace
TOTAL: from £842
The most popular resort in Romania, Poiana-Brasov offers around nine miles of marked terrain. Its small size means it’s best suited to beginners or families, and with floodlit night skiing on offer too, you can maximise your time on the snow. Off the slopes, you can try winter camping and snowshoeing in the surrounding forests and after dark the bars offer cheap and cheerful food and drink.
The Highlands, Scotland
From January to April, you should find at least one of Scotland’s five ski areas open, and if the conditions are anything like last winter, Scotland could outdo the Alps again! Ok, so the price of a lift pass is nothing to write home about (a day pass at Cairngorm costs £30.80) but the ease of getting to the Highlands can make it a cheap getaway and a great alternative to the European mainland.
To get the best out of the changeable Highland weather, it’s wise not to book too far in advance. Instead, keep an eye on snow conditions and be ready to head north when the snow does show. Fingers are crossed for another bumper season and Cairngorm already has snow and has been open for skiing this week.
Read more tips on cheap skiing holidays
Pictures © SnowSphere.com